2022 Sepang MotoGP Test Friday Notes: New (And Old) Liveries, Braking Assistance, And Defending Titles

Pit lane is finally open, if only for some teams – notably Yamaha and Suzuki – to show off their new liveries, and we are starting to get a first look at the new parts some of the factories have to test. The new Yamaha livery is almost indistinguishable from last year's, Yamaha following the "if it ain't broke" philosophy.

Suzuki's is updated, and to my mind improved by having a dash of black to set off the other colors on the bike. The black panel around the race numbers something of a throwback, though historically, white numbers on a black background were used in the 125cc class.

But with the test due to start properly on Saturday, there were bikes being rolled out into pit lane, which meant we had a chance to see one or two updates being tried. Everyone has their 2021 bikes at the test, to use as a baseline (riders usually start off the Sepang test on last year's bikes, to get back up to speed and to remind themselves of how the bikes felt), and updated versions.

In front of the Monster Energy Yamaha garage, mechanics for both Fabio Quartararo and Franco Morbidelli were warming up two bikes, a bike with a version of the 2022 chassis debuted at the Misano test last year, and a 2021 bike, with a white plastic knee rest added to a plate bolted to the chassis. The knee rest is there at the request of Fabio Quartararo, who found himself with his knees pressing against the frame and fairing in a couple of places in 2021.

"It’s something I wanted to have because – I think it was in Misano – I wanted to have something for T4 and T10, because they are places where you really use the arms and a few times I was pushing a lot on the fairing," the reigning world champion said at the launch. "I asked for something to push on my knee. It’s something we’ll try during the test to see if it works. I don’t think we’ll use them at every track. At some we don’t need, like Sachsenring. It is something to test because for physical condition I think it will help."

With braking such an important part of MotoGP now, the obvious reason to use it is to counter arm pump. But Quartararo denied that was the case. "More in general," the Frenchman said. "Not really for arm pump but for here around the biceps and triceps."

The parts were added to the 2021 bike to test, to maintain a baseline for settings. The golden rule of engineering is to change one variable at a time. So you add new parts to a known quantity to understand what those variables will be.

Stay humble

If plastic knee rests had been added, what was notably absent from Quartararo's bike and leathers was any sign of his championship. With the exception of a single gold star on the back of his special winter testing helmet and, he assured us, some details on his boots, there was nothing to celebrate the fact that the French youngster had secured Yamaha's first title since 2015.

For Quartararo, that was all about keeping himself firmly rooted to the ground, and allowing himself to take on the role of underdog. To remind himself that he may have won the title this year, but that doesn't mean anything in 2022. "I just don’t like putting a lot of numbers or stars or things like that," he explained. "Last year was great, was a great memory. It’s just one star because it’s one title and we don’t need to forget but it’s a new championship and we all have zero points right now."

"I am starting the same as last year, a challenger," Quartararo told us. "My goal at the moment is to start the same as I did last year, not to say, 'I will be world champion!'. Of course that is the long-term goal but the main is podiums and victory: without this you cannot be champion. It is the first step, to look for victories."

Quartararo's mindset is not one of defending champion, a lesson he learned from watching Joan Mir in 2021. "Because I have nothing really," he pointed out. "We saw the same with Mir. He had an amazing season in 2020 but 2021 is brand new. 2022 is brand new also. I don’t know why the champion must have more pressure. I have less pressure because I achieved my dreams and most riders cannot achieve the goal of being MotoGP world champion, so I feel less pressure to be honest."

No time to waste

This test is going to be even more crucial than normal. MotoGP has only two days at Sepang, instead of the normal three, followed by three days at Mandalika. But Sepang is the known quantity, and the riders will have to spend the first day of the Mandalika test just trying to understand the track. And even once they have done that, it will be hard to assess how much a particular part might bring, as the factories have no previous data from the track to compare it against. No baseline means that a part might appear better on a particular day at Mandalika, but there is no guarantee it will be better anywhere else.

That was a cause of some frustration for Quartararo. "I don’t know why we have two days here and not three, because in the end, it is always the same," he said. "We are always fast but this is to be back and back in shape and two days is so short and it won’t be easy. The third day of Indonesia will be important because the first two days everyone will be going faster and faster and you won't know where is the limit and lap time. It won’t be easy. I expect to do my best on the second day here."

Suzuki's Alex Rins wasn't sure that there was enough testing time at the start of the season. "I don’t know. Two days here and two days at Mandalika, because the first day we will learn the track," he told us. It was not going to be easy, he told us. "It's a good challenge. The engine design is open this year, so the test rider work will be important because we don’t have enough time." With everyone bringing new engines for 2022 after the lifting of the engine freeze, having just two days at a track which is a known quantity made evaluating engine performance hard.

Progress?

Both Rins and teammate Joan Mir were pleasantly surprised at how much work Suzuki had done over the winter break. "The only thing that I saw was that they work a lot, because they brought a lot of things to try, some improvements that are on paper quite interesting," Mir told us. Whether the new parts would work or not would only become clear when they hit the track, though. "I didn't try the bike yet, so it will be really important these first two days, to start to understand the bike."

Mir also pointed to Sepang's idiosyncrasies. "I know that normally this track is a bit different, because some riders are super strong here, but then at the beginning of the year, they struggle. So it's just quite orientating, this track, but it's important to have a great feeling and everything. Looking forward. Looks like Suzuki works more than I probably expected."

The test was important for Mir's future at Suzuki, he agreed. Honda is reported to be courting the 2020 world champion, returning to a quarry they targeted back when he was still in Moto2, and before Suzuki signed him. Mir wants to fight for a championship, and he needs help from Suzuki to do that.

The Spaniard held off speculation about his future, however. "This is also early to speak about that," Mir said, before explicitly leaving his future open. "Like you said, now a lot of people finish their contracts in 2022 and we are hoping to renew, or to take a different decision. Honestly, the test will be important for me. It will be important to understand everything. As a Suzuki rider now, I feel great here, I feel like I am at home, but it's true that a change is something that in some moments can be good, also. But at the moment, I cannot speak more about it, because there is nothing decided. But let's see."

The riders to beat

Mir had a clear idea of who he had to beat to recapture the title he won in 2020. "Well, for sure Fabio is the champion from last year, so he has the privilege to be the man to beat," the Suzuki rider said. "Then there are a couple more that wants his position. One is myself, I want his crown. Then I saw Pecco did something impressive in the last part of last season, so I think that Pecco will be strong. Then Marc will be back, so he is always really strong. Then some surprise, some Ducati rider that are really fast. Everything is really open, more than ever."

In terms of bikes, it was the Ducati that kept Mir awake at night. "For sure, the factory with more bikes on the track is Ducati. So I have the experience last year and during the race, it's not the bike that you want to follow. So this will be the worst one for me." Did that mean qualifying was even more important, to be able to start ahead of the Ducatis? "Yes! More than ever, yes," Mir told us.

The difficulty of identifying rivals was the fact that talent was so deep in MotoGP at the moment, Alex Rins pointed out. "For sure it’s not just one guy," Mir's Suzuki teammate told us. "The level in MotoGP is increasing a lot year by year. Now it's difficult to say just one or two riders." That had changed a lot since Rins' rookie season in MotoGP. "When I arrived in 2017 there was Marquez, Lorenzo, Valentino and that's it. Now in every race there are a lot of riders. It's difficult to qualify in the first positions."

Testing gets underway in earnest in just a few short hours. By this time tomorrow, we should be a little wiser as to where everyone stands. Every factory seems to have brought new parts. Saturday will put them through their paces, albeit briefly. But we should be a little less in the dark about the shape of 2022 to come.


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Comments

2 breadcrumbs/tea leaves:

Mir "Looks like Suzuki works more than I probably expected." (I don't think he knows what he is going to do re signing).

Quarty (seeing himself in 2022 as analogous to Mir 2021). I think he does have a sense of what he is going to do but is open to being proven right or wrong by ONE thing now.

Wee nudge towards Mir stays put and Quarty leaves...(been noting every wee tea leaf).

Quartararo is VERY sincere, open, honest, demonstrative and straightforward. He will display his take on this soon. He has been.

The assumption is that Honda and Mir have an offer drafted but no ink on it. Silly season has started, basically. Suzuki will be making an offer as well, and so Mir will get to look at it before deciding where to sign. Which means look at the 2022 bikes.

Quartararo is being courted by literally everyone. But it is down to Yamaha, Honda and Ducati. He holds most of the cards in this Silly Season game. We await his play. He awaits seeing the cards going down right now in front of him. The dealer is placing down the top speed of the Yamaha, and it does not look good at all as per the speed trap numbers posted from Rookies and Test guys. Zero improvement. Everyone else coming forward, especially Aprilia. Honda not yet clear but assumed just behind Duc again.

Yes, there is MUCH more to MotoGP bikes winning races. We all know very well what Blue has done with their tuning fork and enough outright power. But watching closely Fabio over the last two years, culminating now, HE looks to be focused on JUST one thing. You are about to hear that card hit the table. I am telling you now, it is a deuce. A number two. Everyone and everything is signaling that it is the exact same crap from last year. Quartararo gets, right now, to decide which bike he wants to race from here on out. 

The next moment in this card game? Quartararo looks at the hand Honda puts down with the all new 2022 bike. Then he makes a decision for his future on which of three bikes to continue his career on. He has zero poker face. He is young. He is smart. 

The Aqua ship he just stepped off of crumbled spectacularly behind him. The Blue ship he landed on has taken on water and bobbed while he forced it to a Title. He just dried himself off and refreshed at the dock yard. Before he gets aboard the Blue vessel for this tour he will decide his next move. Pasta or sushi Fabio? 

This card hitting the table. Fabio's face, gestures on bike and words. Then that hand Honda has. Thassit. Boom. Then we wait for announcements. 

Odds here are rapidly changing as we see these cards. Before Saturday morning track opening? 1) Ducati 2) Honda, gap 3) Yamaha.

Pasta.

Almost time to start checking timing screens! I think most excited about the new Honda.  Hey Motoshrink, you guys have a chat on any particular platform during the season?

Great to have you chiming in. This place has been amazing, even with my blather. There is a chat forum on here. We seem to keep up ok right in here w discussions in comments. A handful of us exchange emails now and again that are personal or figuring out how to send each other stuff from lost bets. Short answer is no for me and yes for others on the Motomatters chat forum (want to give BJ a welcome, someone like Apical?). 

BJ, glad you got in on the Top 5 + Rookie tip. Strong Red vote, your Top 3 were Pecco/Miller/Martin. I think I am Marquez/Bagnaia/Quartararo. Feeling electricity in my bones and cojones about 2022 bursting open now! Enjoy

I lose of track of the comments here a bit, especially by the time I’ve caught up on podcasts etc through race weekends. I’ll have a look at the forum.

the tips were a bit of fun.  All hangs on The Honda and The Marc, and whatever black magic Ducati have summoned.

Almost finished listening to Casey podcast. Bloody long and a fair bit of drivel from the host but a lot of interesting stuff.

Viva Miller!  Fingers crossed Marc doesn’t disappear into the distance….or Pecco!

Just wrote a long answer and lost it.

Short answer is just my thoughts, based on a heap of closely and thoroughly noted bits of data over time. Mix of foreground clear facts and background subtleties, how they are shifting in relation. Some sensible, some intuiting. Not just betting via the neat name of the horse in the pamphlet, but not from a definitive or convincing couple of particular facts either. 

It may be understood better retrospectively when the whole picture is more complete.

"Grandma's knees WOULD ache when the weather was changing back then. Careful not to hang her as a witch until tracking the weather with her a while, and being open to discovering that arthritis is known to be sensitive to barometric pressure changes."

One random example: Eye movements in interview videos for instance reveal what part of the brain/what functions are accessed. Up and left, then down and right? It was quick, but they just either fabricated or remembered what they planned to say, then checked it against it fitting right. You can tell when anxiety rises too. Poker stuff, shrink stuff, rabid MotoGP fan stuff. Quartararo is a very easy read. Mir not too tough. 

;)

Retrospective understanding of a provisional when all is revealed...so it's a guess ! Fabio's default theme is the bike is never good enough, he is never good enough, even if it and he is. We start again from zero, we are the underdogs, I must improve, we must improve. A functional belief, a narrative, background radiation. Maybe.

Fabio is SOLIDLY on the front foot mate. Atop his game, aware, and wise. 

The Blue bike? Nope.

Teeee shirt. Betcha! Did it Friday before a 2022 wheel had been turned.